New sheriff introduces leadership team

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GREENFIELD — During his campaign for sheriff, Brad Burkhart often talked about how the deputies at the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department — or any police agency, for that matter — were so much more than just law enforcement officers.

On any given day, those who wear the uniform are called upon to be counselors, social workers, emergency medical providers and mentors. And, yes, of course, they enforce the law.

A more proper term for them is public safety officer, Burkhart said, because that’s their mission every day: to ensure the community they serve is as safe and secure as possible for all who live there.

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Burkhart’s tenure as Hancock County sheriff began this week, and instilling that public-safety mentality within his deputies is among his top priorities. His first step in ensuring that’s done was to surround himself with the men he believes will help him further that mission, he said.

The team now leading the county’s largest law enforcement agency has more than 100 years of public service among them. And they’re a mix of old and new faces within the department’s administrative offices.

Robert Campbell, a 23-year member of the department, will serve as Burkhart’s chief deputy, taking on the rank of major. He steps into the role Burkhart previously held under Sheriff Mike Shepherd. The chief deputy is the second-highest-ranking member on the department, helping oversee its $2.5 million budget and a staff of more than 40 deputies, 30 jail officers, 20 reserve deputies and 10 civilian employees.

Campbell started his career as an officer in the Hancock County Jail before moving up though the department’s ranks, most notably as a shift supervisor and lead investigator. For the past eight years, he has been the department’s road patrol captain in Shepherd’s administration.

Robert Harris, a 15-year veteran of the sheriff’s department who for the past four years has been a lieutenant on the road, will become the road patrol captain. Harris has experience assisting with the fatal-accident crash team, the crisis intervention team and the SWAT team, and he’s eager to take on the bigger roles within these groups.

Captains Ted Munden and Keith Oliver will keep the posts they held under Shepherd as head of the investigations unit and as jail commander, respectively.

Munden is a 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s department. He, too, started as a jail officer before becoming a merit deputy. He has rotated between the road patrol division and the investigations division throughout his career. He was named the head of the investigations unit after its former leader, Jeff Rasche, left to become the chief of the Greenfield Police Department in late 2016.

Oliver was named the jail commander upon the departure of Andy Craig, a 27-year member of the sheriff’s department who retired in January 2018. He’s worked in the jail for 13 years and has helped the facility navigate its current overcrowding issues.

Burkhart said he took great care in selecting his administrative team. He chose officers he knew would help him empower his staff to be the best they can be.

After all, the deputies are the heartbeat of the department, he said. And those leading the department need to train and mold its next group of leaders.

“There’s a difference between leadership and management. Leaders make leaders; and I think that’s what we need to do,” Burkhart said. “We need to envision the next generation of leaders to come up. Because this place is going to have to run well after we’re gone.”

Looking forward, this new sheriff’s department administrative team believes dealing with overcrowding issues at the Hancock County Jail will continue to be one of the top concerns.

Every day in the facility present a new challenge, Oliver said, whether it’s finding bunk space for inmates in a building well over its maximum capacity or finding transportation and lodging for sentenced inmates to be housed in other county jails.

Population in the facility was 195 in the middle of this week; the jail was built to hold 157 inmates.

And while the population is down from the record 250-plus inmates lodged there just last month, it doesn’t include the more than 70 inmates being housed in other counties, who could be sent back to Hancock County at any time; or those enrolled in local community corrections and home detention programs. Some of those prisoners, who are at risk of violating terms of that more lenient monitoring, could wind up back in jail, Campbell said.

Addressing substance abuse issues and mental illness, too, will continue to be priorities for the sheriff’s department moving forward.

Burkhart plans to continue to expand the crisis intervention training he helped bring to the county, ensuring that every officer in every local agency is given the tools to help people in need.

He doesn’t expect illegal drugs to lessen their grip on the county anytime soon, and therefore will continue to further treatment and enforcement efforts.